Thursday, February 6, 2014

Psalm 119: Active Meditation and Doing God's Will

What do you think of when you hear the word “meditate”?  I think of emptying one’s mind of busy everyday thoughts in order to allow it to fill up with the awareness of God.  I think of sitting still, of keeping quiet. I don’t think of singing, complaining, talking to myself, or turning something over and over in my mind.  These seem so active, and my impression of meditating is more passive.  Yet the word used in Psalm 119 that is translated (NKJV) as “meditate” is siyach, and it has in it these very active ideas. So when the Psalmist says, “I will meditate,” the meaning is more like, “I keep on turning this over in my mind; I sing it out; I talk about it; I talk to myself about it; I commune with it; I complain about it; I muse on it.”  In its heart, the word has the idea of germinating, putting forth shoots and buds, bringing forth, producing, daring, lifting up. I am so taken with the interactive nature of the word “meditate” with the end result of life, growth, productiveness, adventure. This is not what I expected.

Here are the verses from Psalm 119 (NKJV) that include this word.
119:15 I will meditate on your precepts and contemplate your ways.
119:23 Princes also sit and speak against me, but your servant meditates on your statutes.
119:27 Make me understand the way of your precepts; so shall I meditate on your wonderful works.
119:48 My hands also I will lift up to your commandments, which I love, and I will meditate on your statutes.
119:78 Let the proud be ashamed, for they treated me wrongfully with falsehood; but I will meditate on your precepts.
119:148 My eyes are awake through the night watches, that I may meditate on your word.

Since the Hebrew word is so interactive, I’ve rewritten the verses to incorporate that sense.

I watch all night, wide awake, complaining about what you have said; singing about what you have said; pondering what you have said; talking with myself about what you have said.  I muse on it until it germinates, brings forth new life in me, helps me to dare to be obedient. 

I keep on pondering, thinking about, talking through, musing on your assignments and charges, even complaining about them, and thus I keep my attention on your path, your way of living.

Leaders badmouthed me and threatened me, but I am your slave, and I keep on thinking about, singing about, complaining about, talking with myself about the limits and boundaries you have set.

Keep on disconcerting those who are puffed up, the presumptuous ones; they twisted me up for no reason; but I keep on focusing on what you’ve given me to do, thinking it through, talking with myself about it until it comes to life and I dare to stand up and obey. 

Help me discern the direction of what you have given me to do; so shall I keep on pondering, singing about, talking about your continual wonders, your strength, your mysteries, how you are different from everything and everyone else.

I keep on carrying your orders in my hands, orders I have loved to carry out, and I continue to think about and ponder and pray about what you tell me to do until it bursts into life in me, a life that stands up and dares to obey you.

These verses remind me so much of the life of Jesus. Jesus interacted with God’s words to him. His meditation is not passive, but passionate. He fought the devil in the desert in order to understand God’s word, “This is my beloved son, in whom I am well pleased.” He discerned the kernel of falseness in the devil’s suggestions of how to be the son of God. Jesus’s life illustrates the fact that obedience to God includes standing up to presumptuousness, to arrogance, to power, daring to speak the truth, respecting the boundaries set up by God.

Jesus knew his calling was to live in direct obedience to every word of God. Everything God told him to do, he did, and he did nothing that was not directed by God. “If you want to enter into life, keep (attend carefully to) the commandments (the orders).” Do what God tells you to do.  (Matthew 19:17). “If you keep my commandments, you will abide in (live in, dwell in) my love, just as I keep my Father’s commandments and abide in my Father’s love.” This shows an emphasis on paying attention and obeying similar to that of the psalmist of Psalm 119.   “If you continue in (abide in) my word (what I have said), you are my disciples indeed” (John 8:31). “As the Father loves me, so I love you; continue in my love” (John 15:9).

Jesus meditated on the command of God in the garden of Gethsemane; he talked to God about it; you could say that he complained a bit when he asked whether things had to be done this way; and he expressed his willingness to do what God wanted, but he wanted to be sure. “Is this really what you mean for me to do?” he asked his Father. “Is there any other way?” Then he dared to rise up and do what his Father told him to do.

In the Old English poem The Dream of the Rood, the cross itself speaks about Jesus: “Then he stripped, he who was God almighty, the young hero, strong and resolute.  He ascended the high gallows, brave in the sight of many, when he desired to redeem humankind.” Jesus’s lifetime of paying attention to the will, the word, the command of his Father ended with the most heroic act in the history of the universe, his death that brought us all freedom and his resurrection which gives us all life.